George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Noncommissioned Officers and Privates of the New-York Line, 30 August 1793

From the Noncommissioned Officers
and Privates of the New-York Line

New-York, August 30, 1793.

May it please your Excellency,

THE non-commissioned officers and privates of the New-York line, late American army, beg leave most respectfully, to address your Excellency, on the subject of our sufferings during the late War, and the mode in which they have been repaid—that, having completed the revolution, we retired to private life, to mix with our fellow-citizens, with assurances from your Excellency, that we had served our Country faithfully, and our Country would perform all they had promised1—but from the weakness of government at that time, and their resources being conducted by a financier, we were obliged to take due bills for our wages,2 when our distresses were extreme, and compelled to alienate those due bills in the payment of public taxes, and all private debts, at 2/6 in the pound, and made tributary to our assigns by the funding act in a nett profit of 12/6 in the pound; and also, in the sum of 13,250 dollars annually, for offices of transfer, to accommodate the dealers in our due bills.3

That as there remains in the hands of government, a small balance of the wages we so painfully earned, which we conceive may be paid to the original creditor without interfering with any system heretofore adopted and the documents necessary to ascertain the amount of our wages, and the sum government have paid by the funding act, and the balance that remains due, are now in existence.4

Therefore, Sir, relying on your wisdom at the head of government, as we did on your ability in the field, with a remembrance of the confidence placed in your honour during our servitude, and at the dissolution of the army, that a country rescued from impending ruin, will not leave the debt of gratitude unpaid, nor so many of our companions worn, by fatigue and hard fighting, to solicit in the eve of life, the cold hand of charity in a country, their valour saved, and as the labours of the gentleman, Mr⟨.⟩ Madison, seconded by Mr. Jackson, who were disinterested, and induced from principles of justice, in advocating the cause of an Army, who had done and suffered more than any army ever did for the freedom of the human race proved unsuccessful.5 We solicit your Excellency’s advice and assistance at the next meeting of Congress, to obtain the remnant that remains unpaid on our certificates.6 And in the mean time, subscribe ourselves with affection and esteem, Your humble servants.

To be presented to Sergeant John Clark.

Signed, &c.7

Printed letter, Daily Advertiser (New York), 31 Aug. 1793; National Gazette (Philadelphia), 4 Sept. 1793. The introduction to this letter in the New York newspaper reads: “For the DAILY ADVERTISER, Messrs. Childs & Swaine. The notice in yesterday’s paper, for the non-commissioned officers and privates, to meet last evening, having excited some alarm—Please to insert the following, which was drafted, and unanimously agreed upon.” The notice of 30 Aug. requested the veterans to meet that evening at the home of Sgt. John Clark, a tavern keeper at 135 Vesey Street, “to give their opinion, on a certain piece of business.”

1This is a reference to GW’s Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States of 2 Nov. 1783 in which he offered thanks “to the Non Commissioned Officers & private Soldiers, for their extraordinary patience in suffering, as well as their invincible fortitude in Action. To the various branches of the Army the General takes this last and solemn opportunity of professing his inviolable attachment and friendship.” He also observed that it was not possible “to conceive that any one of the U. States will prefer a national bankrupcy and a dissolution of the union, to a compliance with the requisitions of Congress and a payment of its just debts, so that the Officers and Soldiers may expect considerable assistance in recommencing their civil occupations from the sums due to them from the public, which must and will most inevitably be paid” (Copy, in John Singer Dexter’s writing, DLC:GW, series 9; Df, in David Cobb’s writing, DLC:GW). This address was published in the 7 Nov. 1783 issue of the New-York Morning Post.

2During the latter years of the Revolutionary War and under the government established by the Articles of Confederation, the soldiers received their salaries in the form of paper certificates, which many veterans later used at a depreciated value to pay state taxes and personal debts. Robert Morris, who is often referred to as the “financier of the American Revolution,” served as the national superintendent of finance, 1781–84.

3This complaint refers to Section 4 of “An Act making provision for the [payment of the] Debt of the United States,” 4 Aug. 1790 (1 Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends ., 140). These veterans objected to the fact that they had liquidated their government-issued certificates at a depreciated value and that under this funding bill speculators could now redeem these certificates at face value. On the complexities of American finances during the Revolutionary War, the postwar era, and Alexander Hamilton’s leadership as secretary of the treasury, see E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961).

4The reference to a remaining balance is not clear, but it may have been an incorrect interpretation of Hamilton’s report to the U.S. House of Representatives of 10 Nov. 1792. According to this report, a total of $157,789.94 had been expended out of the $190,000 apportioned for redeeming certificates, thus leaving $32,210.06 available for future payments (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 13:42–44).

5James Madison and Congressman James Jackson of Georgia were two leading opponents of the funding bill. On the political debates over the funding bill and other aspects of Hamilton’s financial program, see Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 77–161.

6Neither a reply from GW nor an address to Congress on this subject has been found.

7An additional line in the Daily Advertiser reads: “The Printers in the several states are requested as a particular favor by give the foregoing a place in their papers.”

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